Batman Ninja: A Beautiful Frustration

By Drew Kiess

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Oh, boy… where to start with this one?

I suppose I will start by admitting that this is a review of the dubbed version of Batman Ninja. I am not an anime fan, so watching the movie with subtitles would have been a chore for me. For some, that may disqualify me altogether from reviewing this. That would be fair. I can only approach this from the standpoint of being a Batman fan, so that is the angle from which this review is written.

There. The qualifier is done.

Batman Ninja is the newest addition in the long line of DC Animated movies, this time from Warner Bros. proper and not from any of its subdivisions, such as Warner Premier. This movie will see a theatrical release in Japan, and I sincerely wish it all the success in the world there. The film was directed by Junpei Mizusaki, with Roger Craig Smith providing the dubbing for Batman, Tara Strong for Harley Quinn, Grey Griffin for Selina Kyle, and Tony Hale for the Joker.

When Gorilla Grodd’s time travelling experiment sends Batman, his allies—Nightwing, Red Robin, Robin, Alfred, Red Hood, and Catwoman—and his greatest foes—Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, and Deathstroke—back in time to feudal Japan, Batman must learn the ways of the ninja in order to return everyone back to Gotham. As the movie opens, the CG animation is striking. The movements look fluid and the action is more captivating than anything DC animation has put out in some time.

This quality in the visuals is almost constant throughout and the eyes never get bored watching the movie. The one strike against this is a baffling change in style about midway through the film that seemingly serves no storytelling purpose, but this alone does not sink this movie.

What keeps this movie from being great in my eyes is its over reliance on its own medium. The film sets itself up in ”our Gotham”, and then transports the familiar back in time to feudal Japan, but the rules of feudal Japan are not the rules of “our Gotham”—it exists very much by the rules of anime.

And this would be fine, if the movie set itself up as an anime first, set in an anime world. By trying to its cake and eat it, too, the film loses its punch. If fighting mechanical castles were necessary to the overall arc of the film, perhaps it would have been better to simply establish that the world that this Batman lives in is that kind of world, and not bother with the whole time travel ruse (It’s hard not to feel like Randall from Clerks, here. “I don’t appreciate your ruse, ma’am. Your cunning attempt to trick me).

What saves this movie for me is the characterization of Batman, which never feels false to the character, and the aesthetic. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a DC animated movie that doesn’t feel reliant on sophomoric sexual overtones that have become tiresome in recent entries. The characterization of the other characters, however—save, perhaps, Selina Kyle—is all over the map and not really as true as I would prefer.

Overall, I am lukewarm on Batman Ninja. This very well may be a great movie that simply wasn’t made for me. What I can say is that the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the marketing on just how good this film looks was not overstated. If you are a Batman fan or an anime fan, I would say that Batman Ninja is worth checking out. But if you are not as into anime as you are into Batman, then this may not be for you, either.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

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